Sholl's New Cafeteria, for decades a culinary landmark to downtown Washington diners fond of home-style meals at fast food prices, is moving to the suburbs.
Evicted from its first floor location in an office building at Vermont Avenue and K Street NW, Sholl's will close after supper Saturday, Nov. 24. The cafeteria, which in its 56-year history has always been located downtown, will reopen early next year in a high-rise office building in Rosslyn at 1735 N. Lynn St., a block from the Metro stop.
"Times have changed," said co-owner Eddie Sholl, whose late uncle (whom he refers to as "Mr. Evan Sholl") founded the cafeteria that bears the family name. "We had the opportunity six years ago to move to Virginia but Mr. Evan Sholl wouldn't even consider it. We just couldn't find anything closer to downtown."
As loath as Eddie Sholl is to leave downtown, it was Rosslyn or nothing. "We looked at 40 locations as far as Tysons Corner, but this was the only one we even considered. The others were just too far out." Sholl's Colonial Cafeteria at 20th and K streets NW will continue to operate as usual.
Seven months ago, the 12-story building near McPherson Square that has been the home of Sholl's New Cafeteria since 1950, was sold to a real estate partnership, which is currently renovating the building.
Last May, shortly after the sale, the new owner, McPherson Square Associates, gave the cafeteria a month to vacate. After public protests and a lawsuit the partnership told Sholl's it could remain open until Thanksgiving.
Rehabilitation of the building is well under way. Several months ago contractors erected a wooden fence around the perimeter of the restaurant and some days water used during the renovation sluices down the usually spotless plate glass windows that are the cafeteria's trademark.
"We've been getting phone calls saying, 'Gee, I didn't even know you were open," said Sholl, who sported a silver tie clasp in the shape of a crossed knife and fork.
Sholl, who began in the family business as a 16-year-old dishwasher in 1946, estimates the New Cafeteria is serving about 2,300 customers a day six days each week, 700 fewer than before the sale.
Sholl said that the lost business, which he estimated at $160,000 since the sale, and the need to renovate the kitchen in the new location so that it will be capable of "Times have changed. We had the opportunity six years ago to move to Virginia but Mr. Evan Sholl wouldn't even consider it." Eddie Sholl turning out the needed 140 pies per day, required the borrowing of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He hopes that will be offset by a considerable savings in rent, which he describes as "substantially less" than the $125,000 a year the cafeteria has been paying downtown.
As Sholl fielded telephone calls from customers asking about the soup of the day (chicken noodle) he greeted lunchtime customers: lawyers in Burberry trench coats, heavily rouged elderly women, street people who eat free and secretaries who have long been loyal customers.
When he told one businessman the cafeteria would reopen in Arlington, the man looked crestfallen. "It's just a hop and skip, come with us," said Sholl. "It's too far," the man said, queuing up for a roast beef lunch.
Because he assumes many customers won't follow him, Sholl hopes to build a new clientele among Rosslyn's legions of office workers as well as the tour groups who favor suburban accommodations.
The new location will not include the current kitchen equipment and furniture, including the distinctive lime green vinyl banquettes, which will be auctioned off Nov. 27, but Sholl plans no changes in operations. Most workers will move to the new location, even if customers such as Lorraine Moeller won't.
Moeller, a secretary who has eaten at Sholl's for 30 years, said Rosslyn is simply too far to go for an hour-long lunch. "I'm really sorry to see them go," said Moeller, who said she was in Rosslyn once for a meeting. "As I recall," she said, "they could use a good place to eat."